Analysis of Mise-En-Scene in the Film 'American Beauty'

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How does mise-en-scene create meaning and provoke response in the opening of American Beauty?

The opening scene of American Beauty shows a teenage girl lying in a bed, venting her feelings towards her father. In this, the audience sees her in dull clothing and colours, minimal make-up and has greasy-looking hair. As she sits up, her hair falls around her face and she stares directly into the camera, giving a sense of unease to the audience. The next shot is an establishing shot, showing the street where the main character, Leister, lives. Its fall/autumn time and the trees are bare or dying, possibly indicating and foreshadowing a death later on in the movie. Also the streets are very linear, all vertical and in uniform, as it were.

The opening very much portrays emptiness and dysfunctional family relationships. A perfect example of this would be the bedroom shot; the room is very empty and bland. The colour scheme looks very neutral as the walls, carpets, sheets and even lamps are creams and white- a clean look. The bedroom is also divided and symmetrical; the audience gets the feel that the relationship between Leister and his wife is not very close and intimacy is lacking. Also, the lamps and bedside tables placed either side of the bed suggests separation and how their relationship seems very “Mr&Mrs”. Leister is also a disruption to the room- his checked pyjamas are in linear and in uniform with the rest of the room- as he looks out of place, sprawled in the bed, sheets ruffled and contrasting with the colour scheme of the room.

When Leister then moves into the shower, the audience sees him ease his face into the pouring water, suggesting how he might ease his way into life situations slowly and cautiously. The next shot pans across the room as Leister masturbates in the shower, indicating the lack of intimacy in his relationship and that he feels the need and obligation to satisfy his own sexual needs. The shot shows the shower doors and the...
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